Apr 222014
 

Worried girl about his bad memoryWhat’s one of your worst memories? How did it make you feel? According to psychologists, remembering the emotions felt during a negative personal experience, such as how sad you were or how embarrassed you felt, can lead to emotional distress, especially when you can’t stop thinking about it. 

When these negative memories creep up, thinking about the context of the memories, rather than how you felt, is a relatively easy and effective way to alleviate the negative effects of these memories, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, led by psychology professor Florin Dolcos of the Cognitive Neuroscience Group, studied the behavioral and neural mechanisms of focusing away from emotion during recollection of personal emotional memories, and found that thinking about the contextual elements of the memories significantly reduced their emotional impact.

“Sometimes we dwell on how sad, embarrassed, or hurt we felt during an event, and that makes us feel worse and worse. This is what happens in clinical depression—ruminating on the negative aspects of a memory,” Dolcos said. “But we found that instead of thinking about your emotions during a negative memory, looking away from the worst emotions and thinking about the context, like a friend who was there, what the weather was like, or anything else non-emotional that was part of the memory, will rather effortlessly take your mind away from the unwanted emotions associated with that memory. Once you immerse yourself in other details, your mind will wander to something else entirely, and you won’t be focused on the negative emotions as much.”

This simple strategy, the study suggests, is a promising alternative to other emotion-regulation strategies, like suppression or reappraisal.

“Suppression is bottling up your emotions, trying to put them away in a box. This is a strategy that can be effective in the short term, but in the long run, it increases anxiety and depression,” explains Sanda Dolcos, co-author on the study and postdoctoral research associate at the Beckman Institute and in the Department of Psychology.

“Another otherwise effective emotion regulation strategy, reappraisal, or looking at the situation differently to see the glass half full, can be cognitively demanding. The strategy of focusing on non-emotional contextual details of a memory, on the other hand, is as simple as shifting the focus in the mental movie of your memories and then letting your mind wander.”

Looking away from the worst emotions and thinking about the context, like a friend who was there or what the weather was like, will rather effortlessly take your mind away from the unwanted emotions associated with a negative memory.- Florin Dolcos

Not only does this strategy allow for effective short-term emotion regulation, but it has the possibility of lessening the severity of a negative memory with prolonged use.

In the study, participants were asked to share their most emotional negative and positive memories, such as the birth of a child, winning an award, or failing an exam, explained Sanda Dolcos. Several weeks later participants were given cues that would trigger their memories while their brains were being scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Before each memory cue, the participants were asked to remember each event by focusing on either the emotion surrounding the event or the context. For example, if the cue triggered a memory of a close friend’s funeral, thinking about the emotional context could consist of remembering your grief during the event. If you were asked to remember contextual elements, you might instead remember what outfit you wore or what you ate that day.

“Neurologically, we wanted to know what happened in the brain when people were using this simple emotion-regulation strategy to deal with negative memories or enhance the impact of positive memories,” explained Ekaterina Denkova, first author of the report. “One thing we found is that when participants were focused on the context of the event, brain regions involved in basic emotion processing were working together with emotion control regions in order to, in the end, reduce the emotional impact of these memories.”

Using this strategy promotes healthy functioning not only by reducing the negative impact of remembering unwanted memories, but also by increasing the positive impact of cherished memories, Florin Dolcos said.

In the future, the researchers hope to determine if this strategy is effective in lessening the severity of negative memories over the long term. They also hope to work with clinically depressed or anxious participants to see if this strategy is effective in alleviating these psychiatric conditions.

These results were published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Source: Beckman Institute

Apr 222014
 

Red Chicken Ancient DNA adds a twist to the story of how barnyard chickens came to be, finds a study to be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Analyzing DNA from the bones of chickens that lived 200-2300 years ago in Europe, researchers report that just a few hundred years ago domestic chickens may have looked far different from the chickens we know today.

The results suggest that some of the traits we associate with modern domestic chickens — such as their yellowish skin — only became widespread in the last 500 years, much more recently than previously thought.

“It’s a blink of an eye from an evolutionary perspective,” said co-author Greger Larson at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

The study is part of a larger field of research that aims to understand when, where and how humans turned wild plants and animals into the crops, pets and livestock we know today.

Generally, any mutations that are widespread in domestic plants and animals but absent from their wild relatives are assumed to have played a key role in the process, spreading as people and their livestock moved across the globe. But a growing number of ancient DNA studies tell a different tale.

Chickens are descended from a wild bird called the Red Junglefowl that humans started raising roughly 4,000-5,000 years ago in South Asia. To pinpoint the genetic changes that transformed this shy, wild bird into the chickens we know today, researchers analyzed DNA from the skeletal remains of 81 chickens retrieved from a dozen archeological sites across Europe dating from 200 to 2,300 years old.

The researchers focused on two genes known to differ between domestic chickens and their wild counterparts: a gene associated with yellow skin color, called BCDO2, and a gene involved in thyroid hormone production, called TSHR.

Though the exact function of TSHR is unknown, it may be linked to the domestic chicken’s ability to lay eggs year-round – a trait that Red Junglefowl and other wild birds don’t have.

When the team compared the ancient sequences to the DNA of modern chickens, only one of the ancient chickens had the yellow skin so common in chickens today. Similarly, less than half of the ancient chickens had the version of the TSHR gene found worldwide in modern chickens.

The results suggest that these traits only became widespread within the last 500 years — thousands of years after the first barnyard chickens came to be. “Just because a plant or animal trait is common today doesn’t mean that it was bred into them from the beginning,” Larson said.

“It demonstrates that the pets and livestock we know today — dogs, chickens, horses, cows — are probably radically different from the ones our great-great-grandparents knew,” he added.

“…They are subjected to the whim of human fancy and control, [so] radical change in the way they look can be achieved in very few generations.”

Source: National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)

Apr 222014
 

photodune-6407269-spicy-red-hot-chilli-pepper-on-tree-in-summer-outdoor-xsCentral-east Mexico gave birth to the domesticated chili pepper — now the world’s most widely grown spice crop — reports an international team of researchers, led by a plant scientist at the University of California, Davis.

Results from the four-pronged investigation — based on linguistic and ecological evidence as well as the more traditional archaeological and genetic data — suggest a regional, rather than a geographically specific, birthplace for the domesticated chili pepper. That region, extending from southern Puebla and northern Oaxaca to southeastern Veracruz, is further south than was previously thought, the researchers found.

The region also is different from areas of origin that have been suggested for common bean and corn, which were presumably domesticated in Western Mexico.

The study findings will be published online April 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, as part of a series of research papers on plant and animal domestication.

Crop domestication, the process of selectively breeding a wild plant or animal species, is of increasing interest to scientists.

“Identifying the origin of the chili pepper is not just an academic exercise,” said UC Davis plant scientist Paul Gepts, the study’s senior author. “By tracing back the ancestry of any domesticated plant, we can better understand the genetic evolution of that species and the origin of agriculture — a major step in human evolution in different regions of the world,” he said.

“This information, in turn, better equips us to develop sound genetic conservation programs and increases the efficiency of breeding programs, which will be critically important as we work to deal with climate change and provide food for a rapidly increasing global population,” Gepts added.

Study co-author Gary P. Nabhan, an ethnobiologist and agroecologist at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center noted: “This is the first research ever to integrate multiple lines of evidence in attempts to pinpoint where, when, under what ecological conditions, and by whom a major global spice plant was domesticated.

“In fact, this may be the only crop-origins research to have ever predicted the probable first cultivators of one of the world’s most important food crops,” Nabhan said.

To determine crop origins, scientists have traditionally studied the plants’ genetic makeup in geographic areas where they have observed high diversity among the crop’s wild ancestors. More recently, they have also examined archaeological remains of plants, including pollen, starch grains and even mineralized plant secretions.

For this chili pepper study, the researchers used these two traditional approaches but also considered historical languages, looking for the earliest linguistic evidence that a cultivated chili pepper existed.

They also developed a model for the distribution of related plant species, to predict the areas most environmentally suitable for the chili pepper and its wild ancestors.

The genetic evidence seemed to point more to northeastern Mexico as the chili pepper’s area of domestication; however there was collectively more evidence from all four lines of study supporting the central-east region as the area of origin.

Source University of California – Davis

Apr 222014
 

Why weren’t zebras ever domesticated? Baron Rothschild frequently drove a carriage pulled by zebras through the streets of 19th-century London. In “Guns Germs and Steel,” Jared Diamond says the reason zebras were not domesticated is that they are extraordinarily vicious and will bite and not let go. But why weren’t people able to modify this temperament if they were able to gentle wolves into dogs?

Why weren’t zebras ever domesticated? Baron Rothschild frequently drove a carriage pulled by zebras through the streets of 19th-century London. In “Guns Germs and Steel,” Jared Diamond says the reason zebras were not domesticated is that they are extraordinarily vicious and will bite and not let go. But why weren’t people able to modify this temperament if they were able to gentle wolves into dogs?

We all think we have a rough idea of what happened 12,000 years ago when people at several different spots around the globe brought plants under cultivation and domesticated animals for transport, food or fiber. But how much do we really know?

Recent research suggests less than we think. For example, why did people domesticate a mere dozen or so of the roughly 200,000 species of wild flowering plants? And why only about five of the 148 species of large wild mammalian herbivores or omnivores? And while we’re at it, why haven’t more species of either plants or animals been domesticated in modern times?

If nothing else, the tiny percentages of domesticates suggests there are limitations to human agency, and that it almost certainly is not true that people can step in and completely remodel through artificial selection an organism shaped for millennia by natural selection.

 The small number of domesticates is just one of many questions raised in a special issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published online April 21.

The issue is the product of a 2011 meeting of scholars with an interest in domestication at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a nonprofit science center jointly operated by Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.

Of the 25 scholars at the conference, two were from Washington University in St. Louis: Arts & Sciences’ Fiona Marshall, PhD, professor of archaeology, who studies animal domestication, and Kenneth Olsen, PhD, associate professor of biology, who studies plant domestication.

Both Marshall and Olsen are currently engaged in research on the crumbling margins of domestication where questions about this evolutionary process loom the largest.

Marshall studies two species that are famously ambivalently domesticated: donkeys and cats. Olsen studies rice and cassava and is currently interested in rice mimics, weeds that look enough like rice that they fly under the radar even when rice fields are handweeded.

Both Marshall and Olsen contributed articles to the special PNAS issue (see The story of animal domestication retold and Genetic study tackles mystery of slow plant domestications) and helped write the introductory essay that raises the big questions confronting the field.

“This workshop was especially fun,” said Olsen, “because it brought together people working on plants and animals and archeologists and geneticists. I hadn’t really thought much about animal domestication because I work primarily with plants, so it was exciting to see the same problem from a very different perspective.”

How much of it was our doing? 

Many of our ideas about domestication are derived from modern experience with animal breeding. Anyone familiar with the huge variety of dog breeds, all of which belong to the same subspecies of the gray wolf, has some appreciation of the power of selective breeding to alter appearance and behavior.

But what about self-fertilizing or wind-pollinated plants, or for that matter, domesticated animals accidentally or deliberately bred with wild relatives?

Recent evidence that cereal crops, such as wheat or barley, evolved domestication traits much more slowly than had been thought has led to renewed interest in the idea that selection during domestication may have been partly accidental.

Charles Darwin himself drew a distinction between conscious selection, in which humans directly select for desirable traits, and unconscious selection, where traits evolve as a byproduct of natural selection in crop fields or from selection on other traits.

“The big focus right now is how much unintentional change people were causing environmentally that resulted in natural selection altering both plants and animals,” said Marshall.

“We used to think cats and dogs were real outliers in the animal domestication process because they were attracted to human settlements for food and in some sense domesticated themselves. But new research is showing that other domesticated animals may be more like cats and dogs than we thought.

“Once animals such as donkeys or cattle were caught,” Marshall said, “the changes humans sought to make were pretty minimal. Really it just came down to culling a few of the males and breeding all of the females.”

Even today, she points out, African pastoralists can afford to kill only four out of every 100 cows or they run the risk that drought and disease will wipe out the entire herd. “So I think outside of industrialized societies or special situations, artificial selection was very weak,” she said.

“In the donkeys and other transport animals, it’s not affiliative [tame] behavior the herders want,” Marshall said. “What they care about more than anything else is that their animals stay alive.”

So artificial selection is acting in the same direction as natural selection, or maybe pushing even harder, because humans often place animals in harsher conditions than natural ones.

“The comparable idea for plants,” said Olsen, “is the dump heap hypothesis, originally proposed by Edgar Anderson, a botany professor here at Washington University. The idea is that when people threw out the refuse of plant foods, including seeds, some grew and again set seed, and in this way people inadvertently selected species they were eating that also did well in the disturbed and nutrient-rich environment of the dump heap.”

“Cultivation practices play a huge role in selection,” said Olsen. “Traditionally in Southeast Asia, many different varieties of rice were grown simultaneously in a given field. It was a bet-hedging strategy,” he said, “that ensured some plants would survive and produce seed even in a bad season.” So it wasn’t people selecting the crop plants directly so much as people changing the landscape in ways that altered the selection pressure on plants.

How best to time travel

Questions about the original domestication events are difficult to answer because plants and animals were domesticated before humans invented writing, and so figuring out what happened has been a matter of making do with the limited evidence that has survived.

The problem is particularly difficult for animal domestication because what matters most is animal behavior, which leaves few traces. In the past, scientists tried measuring bones or examining teeth, looking for age or size differences or pathology that might plausibly be related to animals living with people.

 “Sometimes there aren’t morphological shifts that are easy to find or they’re too late to tell us anything,” Marshall said. “We’ve gone away from morphological identifiers of domestication, and we’re going with behavior now, however we can get it. If we’ve got concentrations of dung, that means animals were being corralled,” she said.

Olsen, on the other hand, seeks to identify genes in modern crop species that are associated with domestication traits in the plant, such as an erect rather than a sprawling architecture. The techniques used to isolate these genes are difficult and time consuming and may not always penetrate as deeply into the past as scientists had once assumed because present-day plants are only a subset of the crop varieties that may have once existed.

So both Marshall and Olsen are excited by recent successes in sequencing ancient DNA. Ancient DNA, they say, will allow hypotheses about domestication to be tested over the entire evolutionary time period of domestication.

Another only recently appreciated clue to plant domestication is the presence of enriched soils, created through human activities. One example is the terra pretain the Amazon basin, which bears silent witness to the presence of a pre-Columbian agricultural society in what had been thought to be untouched forest.

By mapping distributions of enriched soils, scientists hope to better understand how ancient people altered landscapes and the effects that had on plant communities.

“It is really clear,” Marshall said, “that we need all the different approaches that we can possibly get in order to triangulate back. We’re using all kinds of ways, coarse-grained and fine, long-term and short, because the practical implications for us are quite great.”

After all, the first domestications may have been triggered by climate change at the end of the last ice age — in combination with social issues.

As a result, people abandoned the hunter-gatherer lifestyle they had successfully followed for 95 percent of human history and turned instead to the new strategies of farming and herding.

As we head into a new era of climate change, Marshall said it would be comforting to know that we understood what happened then and why.

 Source: Washington University

Apr 222014
 

 Student doing examAs the school year winds down and final exams loom, teachers may want to avoid reminding students of the bad consequences of failing a test because doing so could lead to lower scores, according to new research published by APA.

“Teachers are desperately keen to motivate their students in the best possible way but may not be aware of how messages they communicate to students around the importance of performing well in exams can be interpreted in different ways,” said lead author David Putwain, PhD, of Edge Hill University in Lancashire, England.

The study, published in APA’s School Psychology Quarterly, involved 347 students, average age 15, of whom 174 were male. They came from two schools that offer an 18-month study program for the exam leading to a General Certificate of Secondary Education, the equivalent of a high school diploma in the U.S.

Students who said they felt threatened by their teachers’ messages that frequently focused on failure reported feeling less motivated and scored worse on the exam than students who said their teacher used fewer fear tactics that they considered less threatening, the study found.

A message such as, “If you fail the exam, you will never be able to get a good job or go to college. You need to work hard in order to avoid failure,” was an example of attempting to motivate by fear. Messages focusing on success might include, “The exam is really important as most jobs that pay well require that you pass and if you want to go to college you will also need to pass the exam,” according to the study.

“Both messages highlight to students the importance of effort and provide a reason for striving,” said Putwain. “Where these messages differ is some focus on the possibility of success while others stress the need to avoid failure.”

Twice over 18 months, students responded to a teacher at the school who was provided a script of questions to ask when other information was collected for registration and administration. The teachers asking questions were not the students’ exam-preparatory instructors. The first set of questions asked how frequently their teachers attempted to motivate them with fear of failure, such as, “How often do your teachers tell you that unless you work hard you will fail your exam?” Students’ level of feeling threatened was measured with questions such as, “Do you feel worried when your teachers tell you that your exam is getting nearer?” The teachers asked students to rate each item on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “never” and 5 being “most of the time.” Three months later, students completed a questionnaire with the base question, “What is the reason for doing your schoolwork?” The students had several answer options representing different types of motivation, including rising from within or from an external source. At the end of the 18-month program, researchers collected the students’ final grades.

“Psychologists who work in or with schools can help teachers consider the types of messages they use in the classroom by emphasizing how their messages influence students in both positive and negative ways and by recommending they consider the messages they currently use and their possible consequences,” Putwain said. “Teachers should plan what types of messages would be the most effective and how they could be incorporated into the lesson plans.”

Source: American Psychological Association

Apr 222014
 

ginsengGinseng can help treat and prevent influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages, according to research findings by a scientist in Georgia State University’s new Institute for Biomedical Sciences.

In a recent issue of Nutrients and an upcoming publication of the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, Sang-Moo Kang reports the beneficial effects of ginseng, a well-known herbal medicine, on human health.

Kang’s primary research focuses on designing and developing effective vaccines against viral diseases such as influenza virus and RSV, but he partnered with a university and research institutes in South Korea that wanted international collaborative projects to study if ginseng can be used to improve health and protect against disease because of the potential benefit in fighting these viruses. Ginseng has been reported to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory and immune modifying abilities.

Seasonal influenza is a serious respiratory disease that causes annual epidemics in humans worldwide, resulting in about three to five million cases of severe illness and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Influenza can spread quickly, and new, unexpected pandemic influenza viruses may emerge at any time and cross over to different species. The H1N1 influenza virus, a new strain known as swine flu that emerged in 2009, spread rapidly to more than 74 countries. There are also challenges with existing influenza vaccines, such as required annual updates and no protection against pandemic strains and bird flu.

In addition, there are no vaccines available for RSV, which affects millions and is the leading cause of inflammatory bronchiolitis pneumonia and viral death in infants and in some elderly adults.

In his study published in Nutrients, Kang investigated whether red ginseng extract has preventive effects on influenza A virus infection. He found that red ginseng extract improves the survival of human lung epithelial cells infected with influenza virus. Also, treatment with red ginseng extract reduced the expression of genes that cause inflammation.

After infection with influenza A virus, mice that were orally administered ginseng over a long time showed multiple immune modifying effects, such as stimulated antiviral production of proteins important in immune response and fewer inflammatory cells in their bronchial walls. The study indicates the beneficial effects of red ginseng extract on preventing influenza A virus infections could result from immune modifying capabilities of ginseng.

In his upcoming publication in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, Kang investigated whether Korean red ginseng extract has antiviral effects, or the ability to treat RSV infection. Kang found Korean red ginseng extract improved the survival of human lung epithelial cells against RSV infection and inhibited the virus from replicating, or multiplying, in the body. In addition, treatment with Korean red ginseng extract suppressed the expression of RSV-induced inflammatory genes and the formation of chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen, which play a role in virus-induced epithelial damage in RSV.

Also, mice that were orally administered Korean red ginseng extract had lower viral levels after infection with RSV. The results suggest that Korean red ginseng extract has antiviral activity against RSV infection.

Kang has further demonstrated ginseng’s beneficial effects on influenza and RSV in previously published studies.

Source: Georgia State University 

Apr 222014
 

Waves in your brain make smells stick to your memories and inner maps.

When I was a child I used to sit in my grandfather’s workshop, playing with wood shavings. Freshly shaven wood has a distinct smell of childhood happiness, and whenever I get a whiff of that scent my brain immediately conjures up images of my grandfather at his working bench, the heat from the fireplace and the dog next to it.

Researchers at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience have recently discovered the process behind this phenomenon. The brain, it turns out, connects smells to memories through an associative process where neural networks are linked through synchronised brain waves of 20-40 Hz. The results are published in the latest edition of Nature.

– We all know that smell is connected to memories, Kei Igarashi, lead author, explains.– We know that neurons in different brain regions need to oscillate in synchrony for these regions to speak effectively to each other. Still, the relationship between interregional coupling and formation of memory traces has remained poorly understood. So we designed a task to investigate how odour-place representation evolved in the entorhinal and hippocampal region, to figure out whether learning depends on coupling of oscillatory networks.

Smell guides the way in maze

The researchers designed a maze for rats, where a rat would see a hole to poke its nose into. When poking into the hole, the rat was presented with one of two alternative smells. One smell told the rat that food would be found in the left food cup behind the rat. The other smell told it that there was food in the right cup. The rat would soon learn which smell would lead to a reward where. After three weeks of training, the rats chose correctly on more than 85% of the trials. In order to see what happened inside the brain during acquisition, 16 electrode pairs were inserted in the hippocampus and in different areas of the entorhinal cortex.

After the associations between smell and place were well established, the researchers could see a pattern of brain wave activity (the electrical signal from a large number of neurons) during retrieval.

Coherent brain activity evolves with learning

– Immediately after the rat is exposed to the smell there is a burst in activity of 20 Hz waves in a specific connection between an area in the entorhinal cortex, lateral entorhinal cortex (LEC), and an area in the hippocampus, distal CA1 (dCA1), while a similar strong response was not observed in other connections, Igarashi explains.

This coherence of 20 Hz activity in the LEC and dCA1 evolved in parallel with learning, with little coherence between these areas before training started. By the time the learning period was over, cells were phase locked to the oscillation and a large portion of the cells responded specifically to one or the other of the smell-odour pairs.

Long distance communication in brain mediated by waves

– This is not the first time we observe that the brain uses synchronised wave activity to establish network connections, Edvard Moser, director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience says. – Both during encoding and retrieval of declarative memories there is an interaction between these areas mediated through gamma and theta oscillations. However, this is the first study to relate the development of a specific band of oscillations to memory performance in the hippocampus. Together, the evidence is now piling up and pointing in the direction of cortical oscillations as a general mechanism for mediating interactions among functionally specialised neurons in distributed brain circuits.

So, there you have it – the signals from your nose translate and connect to memories in an orchestrated symphony of signals in your head. Each of these memories connects to a location, pinpointed on your inner map. So when you feel a wave of reminiscence triggered by a fragrance, think about how waves created this connection in the first place.

Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology 

Apr 222014
 

fishFish exposed to the antidepressant Fluoxetine, an active ingredient in prescription drugs such as Prozac, exhibited a range of altered mating behaviours, repetitive behaviour and aggression towards female fish, according to new research published on in the latest special issue of Aquatic Toxicology: Antidepressants in the Aquatic Environment.  

The authors of the study set up a series of experiments exposing a freshwater fish (Fathead Minnow) to a range of Prozac concentrations. Following exposure for 4 weeks the authors observed and recorded a range of behavioural changes among male and female fish relating to reproduction, mating, general activity and aggression. On a positive note, author Rebecca Klaper, Director of the Great Lakes Genomics Center at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, emphasizes that the impact on behaviour is reversible once the concentration level is reduced.

“With increased aggression, in the highest level of concentration, female survivorship was only 33% compared to the other exposures that had a survivorship of 77–87.5%. The females that died had visible bruising and tissue damage,” according to Rebecca Klaper. There is an increasing proportion of antidepressants prescriptions, and like most prescription drugs, they end up, not fully broken down, back into our aquatic ecosystems, inducing their therapeutic effects on wildlife. Although concentrations observed in our rivers and estuaries are very small, an increasing number of studies have shown that these incredibly small concentrations can dramatically alter the biology of the organisms they come in contact with.

The impact of pharmaceuticals is currently not only of interest amongst scientists but also amongst environmental regulators, industry and general public. Some US states are looking to charge pharmaceutical companies with the cost of appropriate drug disposal, some of which is currently being challenged in the courts. “This is just one of an increasing number of studies that suggest that pharmaceuticals in the environment can impact the complex range of behaviours in aquatic organisms,” said Alex Ford, Guest Editor of the special issue of Aquatic Toxicology in which the study was published. “Worryingly, an increasing number of these studies are demonstrating that these effects can be seen at concentrations currently found in our rivers and estuaries and they appear to impact a broad range of biological functions and a wide variety of aquatic organisms.

” This is one of the reasons why Alex proposed a full special dedicated to this topic. Antidepressants in the Aquatic Environment, includes among other studies, research that demonstrates that antidepressants affect the ability of cuttlefish to change colour and a fish study whereby reproductive effects were observed in offspring whose parents who were exposed to mood stabilizing drugs. Ford emphasizes that although the results from this study and others published in the issue show troubling results for aquatic species, this doesn’t indicate that these results are applicable to humans.

“This special issue focuses on the biology of aquatic systems and organisms and results only indicate how pharmaceuticals could potentially have effects on this particular environment.” -

Source: Elsevier

Apr 212014
 

Flowing creativityEmployees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman and colleagues.

Creative pursuits away from work seem to have a direct effect on factors such as creative problem solving and helping others while on the job, said Eschleman, an assistant professor of psychology.

The study examined whether creative activity might have an indirect impact on employees’ performance by providing them with a way to recover from the demands of their job, by restoring them through relaxation, increasing their sense of control, or challenging them to lean to new skills that can be transferable to one’s job.

But the findings reported in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology suggest that creative activity seems to also improve job performance outside of its effect on these traditional types of recovery.

“It can be rare in research to find that what we do in our personal time is related to our behaviors in the workplace, and not just how we feel,” Eschleman said.

The employees in the study were free to define creative activities however they wished. In previous studies, Eschleman noted, people say they spend creative time doing everything from writing short stories to playing video games.

Despite this diversity, “they usually describe it as lush, as a deep experience that provides a lot of things for them,” he said. “But they also talk about this idea of self-expression and an opportunity to really discover something about themselves, and that isn’t always captured with the current recovery experience models.”

The study included data on 341 employees from a major national survey who answered questions about their creative activities, recovery experiences like taking charge of their downtime schedules, and their own ratings of how creative they had been on the job and how they had supported their organization and coworkers.

It also included a second group of 92 active duty U.S. Air Force captains, who were surveyed on similar items about creative activity and recovery but were evaluated on their job performances by coworkers and subordinates.

Many studies of recovery have focused on employees working in notably stressful jobs in healthcare and the military, said Eschleman, who worked as a civilian researcher with the Air Force before coming to SF State. But he cautioned that the need for recovery is something that all employees may face at different times, during quarterly deadlines or organizational changes, for instance.

Eschleman said that employers can encourage their employees to engage in more creative activities outside work, but the encouragement has to strike the right tone.

“One of the main concerns is that you don’t want to have someone feel like their organization is controlling them, especially when it comes to creative activities,” he said, “because intrinsic motivation is part of that unique experience that comes with creative activity.”

Instead, employees can encourage their employees to bring their creative activities into work, whether through a department cake baking contest or a program like the one used by Zappos, Inc., where employees bring in personal artwork to decorate their offices. Eschleman also suggested that companies could provide discounts to local art studios and other outlets for creative work.

“A lot of organizations carve time out where they talk about physical heath and exercise and eating habits, but they can also include in that a discussion of mental health and the importance of recovery and creative activity,” he said.

Apr 212014
 

Rhythmic drum patterns with a balance of rhythmic predictability and complexity may influence our desire to dance and enjoy the music, according to a study published  in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Maria Witek from University of Oxford and colleagues from Aarhus University, Denmark and Oxford University.

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This shows a groove drum-break. Credit: Maria Witek

Many people find themselves unable to resist moving their bodies to the thumping beat of hip-hop, electronic, or funk music, but may feel less desire to dance when listening to a highly syncopated type of music, like free jazz. Researchers interested in understanding how the structure of this music affects our desire to dance have studied the role of rhythm in eliciting pleasure and body movement. They used a web-based survey to investigate the relationship between rhythmic complexity and self-ratings of wanting to move and pleasure. Over 60 participants from all over the world listened to funk drum-breaks with varying degrees of syncopation. Participants then rated the extent to which they made volunteers want to move, as well as how much pleasure they experienced.

Based on the results, the authors suggest that listening to rhythmic drum patterns with a medium degree of syncopation elicited a greater desire to move and the most pleasure, particularly for participants who enjoyed dancing to music regardless. Researchers suggest that listeners enjoy a balance between rhythmic predictability and complexity in music. The authors posit that the relationship between body movement, pleasure, and syncopation is important in people’s responses to groove music.

Maria Witek added, “In this relatively small population, we found that medium syncopation in groove invites the most pleasure and wanting to move. Our findings help us understand how certain musical rhythms can stimulate desire for spontaneous body-movement.”

 Source: PLOS 

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